Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Not an Obamaphile

I cannot guarantee how long or how faithfully I will be able to sample the blogosphere, but in this latest bout of web surfing I found a bleak analysis of the American election over at Whippleshire.

He is not an Obamaphile, clearly. For that matter, neither am I.

Throughout the latter part of this election I have felt the enervation that comes from true pointlessness. What is the point in cheering for a McCain over an Obama? Or vice versa? Neither would have been good for America, and now we will find out exactly how bad it can be with the guy that won.

America's greatness lay in being a republic, not a democracy, not an empire. The republic died years ago, perhaps before the Second World War? Her greatness lay in her constitution, a constitution which has been completely abrogated, dismissed, and otherwise sloughed off. In watching Election 2008 I met and was smitten by the figure of Ron Paul. A Republican, but not a Republican like the imperialists Reagan, Bush, Bush, and McCain. A constitutionalist, and that is something that reaches beyond partisan lines. A man who desired a return to the republic.

But there is little point in crying for what-might-have-been. Instead we need to live with what is and what will be. ... What will be?

From Whippleshire:
It has also been said that peoples go from slavery to great faith, from great faith to freedom, from freedom to prosperity, from prosperity to apathy, from apathy to chaos, from chaos to tyranny, and back to slavery once more. America right now is on the fast track from apathy to chaos and into tyranny.
Let us hope he is wrong.

- V.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Inchoate Musings on Orthopraxy

As I have mentioned elsewhere (here and here also), orthopraxy is of some importance to me. As a convert to Orthodoxy, I have all the theology, but little knowledge (and less experience) of the practice. And what merit a man if he gain all knowledge but losing his soul for failing to practice it? This is the path of the Devil and his minions. Faith without works is dead, and I will show thee my faith by my works.

And yet there is a core ... there is praxis that is of less import and there is praxis that is the heart of our religion. Modest dress, headscarves, Lent: these things and their like are not the be-all and end-all of Orthodoxy. Granted, as Christ said to the right practice of the Pharisees, that they should have done the weightier matters of the Law (justice, mercy, and faith) while not to have left the other undone.

What evidence can I give as to this core? The Law and the Prophets are summed thus: love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself. The three activities Christ mentions in the Sermon on the Mount are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Elsewhere He identifies action done to the sick, the stranger, the widowed, the orphan, and the imprisoned as being done to Him. And St. James says that pure religion to visit the orphan and the widow in their distress, and keep oneself unspotted from the world.

Over and over, the message is this: it is essential to care for the needy, the hurting, the least among you. And so in Christ's Church the heart of our orthopraxy is still the same - caring for our fellow man, and in our care demonstrating our love for God Himself and by our works showing our faith.

It is interesting to note that there is little in Scripture about mastering a catechism, little about church attendance, little about following a prayer rule. The Church has identified these as valuable, and so they are. But the foundation of our praxis lies in our treatment of our neighbours.

The To-Do List
  • almsgiving
  • hospitality
  • visiting the institutionalized (the old, sick, and the gaoled)
  • loaning without repayment (a.k.a. giving)
  • caring for the homeless
  • remembering the single mother, the man who relies on Salvation Army clothing, and the girl who works at Walmart
  • caring also for the foreigner and the immigrant
All these things have been said before ... but it is too easy to rely on governmental social aids (like Canada's health care system, like the Children's Aid Society, like food stamps and welfare) to do the work for us. It is too easy to leave the work to large impersonal charities [the conscientious will only give to charities with low overhead and minimal administrative fees], instead of personally, where there is never any overhead and a direct, immediate, and personal relationship is forged. It is too easy to loan money to the poor (whether with interest or no).

And in a world where even the Church sends away the poor, even the Church spends her riches on the temporal, it is left to the individual to care for the hurting, to invest in eternity, to be Christ to them, that they might be Christ to us. Face-to-face, icon of Christ to icon of Christ, a glimpse of eternity, a reflection of the Divine, an acting out of the mystery of the Incarnation, a sharing in the Passion, grace overflowing upon grace in the economy of Heaven.

- V.

Inchoate Musings on Understanding God

I have been thinking about God, and how I appropriate God. [I want to think that this is a valuable exercise. Most of life is simply lived without reflection and without questioning the presuppositions that undergird it. One's belief in God is the most fundamental presupposition of all; I persuade myself that it cannot be endlessly assumed, but must be challenged.]

It has occurred to me that the God I believe in is, on a quotidian basis, a pagan one. I believe (or profess to believe) in a loving God. But this love I don't understand - it is an alien and foreign love - and so I lapse into a default position of alternating between attempts at bribery (or placation) and anger at or with God when my bribery doesn't work.

To bribe God, to placate God is the faith of the non-believer. It is faith in the pre-Christian malleable and persuadable gods of the pagan pantheons, and has nothing to do with the personal God of Holy Writ.

Anger at or with God is the faith of a thwarted child. It is based upon a relationship, but one ill conceived and distorted. It assumes that love is there, but obviously an inconsistent one.

As I peel back the layers to my private theology, I find a surface declaration in a loving God, a deeper pagan disbelief, a still deeper anger in a God who is not manipulated, and somewhere beneath it all, I find a measure of trust.

When all else has been lost - when little b. was so sick, when my grandfather died, when I fell into Bunyan's Slough of Despond - I have found myself at peace with the Divine, reconciled to the contrariness and irrationality of human existence, no longer troubled by theodicy, but simply dependent and trusting in God and in a love that persists and is sustained despite and in the midst of madness.

But only then. It strikes me that the trouble is taking the childlike faith and trust in God that is with me then and applying it to the rest of my life.

In point of fact, isn't the entire Christian journey, the pilgrimage of each life, a journey through the endless misappropriations and misunderstandings of God into pure faith? Is it not true that this struggle to see God, to have Him revealed, is not just the journey of a people, from Abraham to the Church, but belongs to each one of us?


And then I think of certain theologies. Formalized ones that belong to a particular Christian sect or other.

And it seems to me that there is a development.

There is the child's faith, pure, innocent, and untrammeled. But immature. Adamic.
There is the adolescent's faith, ideological, dogmatic, and often strenuously logical. Systematizing the faith with a nascent intellect. Still immature. Scholastic. Calvinistic.
There is the teenager's faith, romantic, emotional, and vaguely mystical. Some forms of Catholicism. Arminian.

But to the adult there is no type, no theology that can be called truly mature. There are only individuals working their way to sanctity, endlessly discovering the depths of God, until they reach a point - a mature faith - which is a faith that is childlike without immaturity. It is a faith tried, tested, and purified.

- V.

[In the above it is understood, but nowhere stated, that Orthodoxy provides a framework (the best framework) to attain this mature faith, but does not assume it. Orthodoxy provides no shorthand for her theology, no easy dogmatics, no fast mysticism. There is simply a carefully delineated but very rocky road that leads to maturity.]


I am delighted to see Ochlophobist skewering with his usual eloquence the evil of usury. Check it out.

Here are some gems from the original post and the ensuing discussion:

"The worse thing still is that the virtue of wealth is no longer linked to such things as hard work, the production of goods or other such natural virtues, but rather through "making your money work for you." Which, to be certain, is nothing more that what the Church has always called "usury." It is a rather strange proposition, that money can somehow do work. What this really means is that we are to earn interest with our money by the labor of another. Theft really ..." -Lotar.

"Why, if one wants to be ascetical as an Orthodox living in America, do we not consider the option of following, in an unpronounced manner, the norms of Orthodox piety, while taking upon oneself the suffering associated with the acquisition of some form of voluntary poverty?" -Ochlophobist.

"Why, when speaking of ascesis in an American context, do we not even consider in our rhetoric the option of encouraging Orthodox singles and families to live lives in which they will make little money (or at least less money), and thus dress and act and carry themselves in the manner of Christians who happen to be, say, in the bottom 35% of the American socio-economic scales? Would this not be a better interpretation of Chrysostom's many admonishments concerning money and family life than either trendy ascesis or pseudo-monk ascesis?" -Ochlophobist.

"The most unfortunate aspect of what you have pointed out is how narrowly the word "usury" is now defined. It is sad that folks do not put two and two together to realize that "making money work for you" entails that someone, somewhere is being inhumanely robbed or manipulated." -Joseph Schmidt.

"The value of money is created through labor by the production of goods and services. So, if you are making money without labor (ie, making your money work for you, charging interest, etc.) then you are making money from someone else's labor." -Lotar.

"The Gospel also makes total demands of the human person. [...] While the OT demands 10% of our gain, the NT demands we give all we have away. A NT tithe is the widow’s mites. Very few live up to those demands." -Ochlophobist.
- V.